On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
Cardinals prospect Stephen Piscotty: how much power can we expect?
St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty is on a tear down the stretch run for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, hitting .385 in his last 10 games and .320/.381/.440 overall in the month of August. This is a sharp uptick from a July slump that saw him hit just .200/.267/.263 over as 28-game stretch. He'd hit well in April, May, and June, so it is good to see him pick things up again to close off the season.
Overall, Piscotty is hitting .290/.353/.406 with 30 doubles, eight homers, 39 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 127 games, 514 plate appearances for the Redbirds.This looks like a fine season on the surface but his wRC+ is just 100, his wOBA+ 103. When park/league context is considered, his production has been just slightly above average by Memphis/Pacific Coast League standards.
Piscotty was a supplemental first round pick by the Cardinals in 2012 out of Stanford University. He was a solid hitter in college, hitting .341/.410/.466 over a three-year period, but like many Stanford products he didn't show the home run power that scouts would normally expect from a player with his size (6-3, 210) and physical strength. Last year he hit .292/.348/.477 (wRC+134) in 63 games in High-A and .299/.364/.446 (wRC+129) in 49 games in Double-A. He's retained the batting average and OBP this year but with further slippage in his home run power, which is not what scouts wanted to see.
Scouting reports haven't changed much. PCL observers report that he handles both fastballs and breaking balls well and is tough to trick. Although he is rather aggressive and doesn't draw a large number of walks, he also doesn't chase junk outside of the zone; his approach is one of controlled aggression. He'll pull for power occasionally (as shown in the video clip below), but for the most part he goes with the pitch and is content to hit line drives to the outfield.
His batting averages have held up, but each move up the ladder seems to cut 30 points off his isolated power.
A former third baseman, Piscotty has developed into a solid defensive right fielder. Unfortunately he doesn't run well enough to play center field, and without more home run power he'll have trouble finding a regular role as a corner outfielder.
Ultimately we are faced with the same questions we had pre-season: will more power come?
The fact that he's maintained his propensity for contact is a good sign: he isn't over-matched by advanced breaking pitches or plus velocity. The key will be adding more loft to his swing and turning his strength into home run power, but without losing the positive attributes of his approach.
Whether he can do that or not, I don't know.
Rusney Castillo reminds us how screwed amateur players can be
If you're not a player of a certain age from a certain country, the bidding wars never start.
Rusney Castillo isn't a prospect. He's 27, and he's supposed to help a major league team right away. The Red Sox were already flush with outfield options, both in the short and long term, but the idea of a potential superstar making regular-player money over the next six years was just too intoxicating to pass up.
We can still use Castillo to explore how prospects in the draft pool get hosed every danged year, though. Every danged year.
No, Castillo isn't a prospect, but he sure is an unknown, a wild, confusing unknown. We have the scouting reports and videos, and we have the comparables (Ron Gant, Yasiel Puig, or Rajai Davis, a group so wildly disparate that the comparisons border on useless). We have the Davenport Translations on his Cuban stats:
Rusney Castillo hit .332/.401/.545 with 16 HR & 22 sB in 2013. Huzzah! The Davenport Translation on that is .237/.276/.390 9HR/15SB. Egads!
And we have a list of center fielders 5'9" and shorter over the last 25 years:
- Kirby Puckett
- Oddibe McDowell
- Al Bumbry
- Ricky Otero
- Adam Eaton
The one thing we don't have, though, is a clue what Castillo going to do in the majors. In that sense, he is a prospect. He's fully developed, so there's no wondering about how he's going to grow into his body like organizations do with high school kids; he's grown. Even so, Castillo is an unknown quantity of the highest order, just like any player drafted in the amateur draft.
THE RED SOX ARE PAYING CASTILLO $72.5 MILLION BECAUSE THEY'RE GUESSING THAT THEY'RE GETTING A $145 MILLION PLAYER ON CLEARANCE.
Teams were lining up to sign this unknown quantity for tens of millions of dollars.
Castillo got just over nine times the largest bonus ever handed out in the draft, the $8 million Gerrit Cole received from the Pirates. That's partially because the Red Sox are expecting Castillo to help the 2015 team, which makes this something of an apples/oranges comparison, but he's getting the money mostly because the Red Sox could give it to him. Here's what Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said about Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez:
The main drawback [of trading for a pitcher] for us would be giving up the prospects. That’s the hard thing. Reaching into your pocket for your wallet is much easier.
Reaching into your pocket for your wallet is much easier. It's much easier for the Red Sox, and it's much easier for the other teams scrambling for Castillo, like the Giants and Tigers. They were lining up for this unknown. Just as they would happily line up to do the same thing for selected amateur players in the draft.
Let's talk about which amateur players would benefit most if the draft disappeared. It wouldn't necessarily be all of them. Teams would go nuts for the top talent, and there might be some trickle-up consequences for the players at the bottom. There might be fewer teams willing to pay $141,000 for the 10th-round talents of the world, so there would be something of a butterfly effect that we can't quite grasp yet.
Focus on two types:
- Consensus top-o'-the-draft talents, like Bryce Harper or Byron Buxton
- Polished prospects expected to be fast-tracked, like Mike Leake or Mike Minor
Those two types of amateur player are getting hosed. Forever and always. Castillo is just the latest reminder that teams will take all sorts of risks when it comes to unknown players with a chance to outperform their contracts. The Red Sox are paying Castillo $72.5 million because they're guessing that they're getting a $145 million player on clearance. The Nationals paid $7.5 million for Stephen Strasburg because he had almost no other option.
Take Chris Sale. How many teams saw a majors-ready talent who could help a rotation or bullpen almost immediately? Just the White Sox? Two teams? All 30, to varying degrees? For the purposes of this discussion, let's pretend the answer was three. Let's pretend there were three teams who were absolutely convinced that Sale would need no more than a dozen games in the minors, if that.
What Sale got from the White Sox in 2010: $1,656,000.
That's third-tier LOOGY money. Get three teams in the bidding -- three teams absolutely convinced that he's an instant closer or rotation boost, who weren't scared of his box-of-paper-clips-in-a-wind-tunnel delivery -- and he blows past that. Three years, $10 million for a closer? Sure. Unless he's a starter worth five years and $20 million. Unless ...
Teams would come, Ray. Teams would come. Just look at the pennywhistles and moon pies that Rusney Castillo can buy now, even though no one knows exactly how he compares to the 90 best outfielders around the league. The headline for this could just as easily be "Scott Boras makes an excellent point about the draft" or "Scott Boras, unlikely freedom fighter" or "Agreeing with Scott Boras and then taking a long, long shower," because Boras mentions this same point every June. And Boras was the guy who found loopholes to make Travis Lee and Matt White free agents in 1996, eventually getting them contracts that, if they were draft bonuses, would still be the two largest draft bonuses in history today.
Repeat: Matt White and Travis Lee were paid more as free agents almost 20 years ago than any player in the draft has received as a bonus since.
This isn't a call to action. This isn't a post with suggestions on how to attack the CBA. This isn't an editorial slamming MLB and the MLBPA for conspiring to allow this. It's just a note directing your attention to the Red Sox, who paid an awful lot of money for a player who might not be good at all, and being positively giddy about their ability to do so. If Castillo is the next Puig, we'll spend the next decade saying, "What a bargain! What a bargain!", even though he was paid exponentially more for his first deal than almost every other unknown-yet-fascinating talent is.
Reaching into your pocket for your wallet is much easier. But don't forget that it's a lot more expensive than paying the players who fall into a team's lap every June.
What went wrong with Xander Bogaerts & Jackie Bradley?
Red Sox erred in thinking rookies were ready
| GLOBE STAFF AUGUST 22, 2014
Among the 10 players with at least 200 plate appearances with the Red Sox this season, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. rank toward the bottom in several key batting statistics.
For a few days earlier this season, Xander Bogaerts decided to stop wearing batting gloves. The idea was that if he felt the wood of the bat directly against the palms of his hands, it would break him out of his slump.
That the coaches went along with the idea spoke to how desperate everybody had become.
The home remedy didn’t work. Really, nothing has for the 21-year-old Red Sox shortstop. He has been abysmal at the plate since early June, his batting average dropping steadily along with the team’s place in the standings.
“It feels like a boxing match to me,” Bogaerts said. “You get hit and you get hit. But if you don’t give up, you can still knock the guy out in the 12th round.”
The fight is over, at least for this season. The last-place Red Sox threw in the towel on Bogaerts’s fellow rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., sending him back to the minors Monday, and only stubbornness seems to have kept them from doing the same with Bogaerts, who has hit below .160 for nearly three months.
So much more was expected. The Red Sox retooled the roster that won the World Series, deciding that Bogaerts and the 24-year-old Bradley were ready for the majors after only short stints with Triple A Pawtucket.
The personable rookies made for good copy. Bogaerts was on the cover of the Globe’s season preview section, and a headline inside described him as “completely prepared.” There was similar praise for Bradley.
Bradley was hitting .216 with one home run and 111 strikeouts at the time of his demotion. Bogaerts is down to .224 after going hitless in Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Angels. A player once celebrated for his advanced approach at the plate has struck out more than three times as often as he has walked.
In a wider context, the numbers are startling. There are 87 players in the American League with at least 375 plate appearances this season, and Bogaerts and Bradley rank in the bottom 12 in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Bradley’s .290 slugging percentage is the lowest in the league and the lowest for a Red Sox outfielder in the modern era of baseball.
“I’ve never struggled like this in my life,” said Bogaerts. “I’ve been told that everybody goes through this at some point, and I guess this is my turn.”
Bogaerts started slowly, then raised his batting average above .300 before opponents realized he would swing at breaking pitches off the plate. Bradley also started well before getting beat on a steady diet of fastballs that he either did not recognize or could not catch up to.
“I think people forget I am 21,’’ Bogaerts said. “I was playing good this year until I hit that bad stretch. I’m battling every day trying to get out of it.
“It’s not easy coming to the park every day. But once I get here, I try to enjoy myself. I’m trying to finish strong.”
A shift in organizational philosophy may be to blame. Bogaerts had only 60 games and 256 plate appearances in Triple A before he was deemed ready for the majors. Bradley had 80 games and 374 plate appearances before becoming a full-time starter. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks also was rushed, playing 40 games at Pawtucket before he was called up in 2012.
“When you look at a player’s path to the big leagues, they’re telling you based on their performance and play if they’re ready for the next challenge,” manager John Farrell said.
Bench coach Torey Lovullo, who managed in Triple A for four seasons, believes there are lessons there that need learning.
“All the concepts you learn growing up as a player get thrown at you all at one time,” he said. “It’s the last chance you have to worry less about winning a game and more about development.”
Dustin Pedroia had 733 plate appearances over two seasons in Pawtucket and then was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2007. Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and other homegrown position players also had longer minor league apprenticeships.
“The pitchers in Double A had more velocity,” said Pedroia. “But everything was way out of the zone, noncompetitive.
“In Triple A, the pitchers are always in the zone and they have a game plan. You see veteran guys who know how to pitch. That’s when you learn more things about yourself as a hitter.”
General manager Ben Cherington said the Red Sox are evaluating why their judgment was off.
“We’ve probably moved some guys quicker due to circumstance,” he said. “Looking back on it, is there is something we could have done differently? Yeah, maybe.
“I don’t think we ever had a hard-and-fast rule. But it is fair to say we typically we want guys to get some experience at that level before they get to the big leagues. We had some players who performed at a visibly high level offensively and that may have pushed the timing on it.
“Maybe that made us more aggressive than we have been in the past.”
The Bradley conundrum
The Red Sox have not lost faith in their treasured prospect, Bogaerts.
“This is a hard game — a really, really hard game,” Lovullo said. “If we all thought that we could just snap our fingers and have Derek Jeter on our hands, we were sorely mistaken.
“We knew that there would be some growing pains. But we’re not running from Xander. He’s going to be an outstanding player.”
Bradley is in a more precarious position. Cherington and Farrell said the Red Sox still view him as a starting player, but their actions spoke loudly.
That the Red Sox demoted Bradley while keeping Bogaerts in the majors was telling. At the same time, the team was pursuing center fielder Rusney Castillo, a free agent from Cuba.
There were suggestions by Farrell that Bradley was not incorporating the changes suggested by the coaches quickly enough, and Cherington spoke of him developing a better pregame routine.
“I was told I wasn’t as vocal as they wanted me to be,” Bradley said. “They want me to do a better job of talking things through. That has never been me; I’m more quiet by nature. But if that’s what they want, I can do that.
“Nobody better be implying that I don’t work hard. That is definitely not the case. I’ve had struggles in the past and I’ve worked my way out of them. I’ll do it again and everything will be back to normal.”
As a college player, Bradley helped lead South Carolina to back-to-back NCAA championships before quickly moving through the Red Sox system. He rejected the idea that he has somehow lost confidence.
“I’m tired of people asking me that question,” Bradley said. “Honestly, I can give a damn about what people think about my confidence. My confidence is unshook.
“I don’t know what anybody has said about my confidence but I’ll tell anybody straight up that my confidence had nothing to do with it. It was performance.”
Bradley then laughed.
“People say what did I learn? I have to play better — that’s what I learned.”
Hitting coach Greg Colbrunn has examined what he could have done better with both players. There are no ready answers.
“Looking back, with Jackie, we probably could have gotten to know him a little bit better during spring training and learned his swing,” he said. “With Bogie, that’s not it. We knew him from last year and everybody saw what he did. He had to get to know himself, what kind of hitter he is and how to make adjustments.”
The unraveling started in spring training, when the Red Sox believed their lineup was strong enough to overcome the slumps the rookies were sure to experience.
That cushion deflated early. Right fielder Shane Victorino started the season on the disabled list and played only 30 games before undergoing season-ending back surgery.
Pedroia has had a down season at the plate. The productive 2013 left-field platoon of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes turned ordinary. New catcher A.J. Pierzynski was a disappointment. First baseman Mike Napoli dislocated his left ring finger on April 15, an injury that sapped his power.
Middlebrooks remained unable to replicate the production from his successful rookie season, in part because of injuries. That led the Red Sox to sign Stephen Drew to play shortstop and move Bogaerts to third base.
Drew never hit and was traded after two months. The lack of production from the veterans turned a harsher light on Bradley and Bogaerts.
“I don’t want to put the burden of the season on them because that’s not fair,” Cherington said. “But it’s fair to say we haven’t fully succeeded in getting those guys to be contributors at the big-league level. But I think they still will be at some point.
“I think what we don’t know and unfortunately we’ll never know is the answer to the question of if the entire team had been playing better as a group — if I had made better decisions how to complement the team and we had better performance from a larger swath of the group — would that have allowed the younger players more freedom and space to get into the season?”
As the Sox faltered, more of a burden was placed on the young players. Bogaerts and Bradley also faced the challenge of breaking in at a time when offense is down across the game.
Factor in the high expectations of a market like Boston and it was a toxic mix.
“Particularly for a position player, breaking into the big leagues is harder than it was 10 years ago,” Cherington said. “It’s harder to hit now. Teams have more information now to exploit any weakness you have.
“And not just in Boston, but certainly in Boston, there’s no such thing as hiding in the background for a few months. You’re a headline the first day you’re here. That’s difficult.”
Rookie Mookie Betts has replaced Bradley in center field and is being touted as the next young star. He has 45 games of Triple A experience.
“What’s the right way to break a player in?” said Lovullo. “That’s a good question.
“I can tell you this: We’re talking about it every day after everything that has happened.”
The Top Prospect Progress Poll
Which MLB prospects have changed the most minds (for better or worse) since being promoted? With samples this small, we can’t always trust the stats. So we polled the industry to get the experts’ takes.
by BEN LINDBERGH ON AUGUST 21, 2014
At last weekend’s Saber Seminar, Red Sox senior baseball analyst Tom Tippett displayed this cryptic image of an undisclosed player’s performance, as measured by an undisclosed metric, through the first 30 games of the 2013 season:
This snapshot tells us something about past events, but nothing about what will happen next. The crucial piece of information about any player whose performance has sunk or risen sharply is what the following section of squiggly line looks like. In many cases, of course, players eventually find their forecasted levels, as Tippett’s mystery man did over a full season (the blue line represents the level at which the Red Sox had projected him to perform):
People who work for teams, though, don’t have the luxury of assuming that every deviation is the result of random variation, even though that’s often the answer. Recognizing a real change quickly can be the difference between winning the division and settling for a wild card — or worse, between earning a wild card and heading home empty-handed. Being overly reactive can be just as dangerous, however. Tippett also displayed the following image, a moving average of the player’s 10 most recent games (the green line represents league average):
Over the course of a season, a player’s performance might have several peaks and troughs that could convince an overzealous observer to celebrate prematurely or sound a false alarm. And the risk of making the wrong call, or the reward of making the right one, is never higher than at the beginning of a player’s career, when we’re the least confident that we know what we’re seeing.
In late January, Baseball Prospectus lead prospect writer Jason Parksreleased his list of the top 101 prospects in baseball.1 Thirty-two of those 101 (complete list here) have played in the majors this season, and most of those major leaguers have lost their rookie eligibility. From this point forward, we can’t call them prospects. They’re just players — young, yes, and probably promising, but expected to produce in the present, not in the nebulous future where their productive years used to reside.
All these players did enough right to earn a big league audition, but their paths have since diverged. Some are off to strong starts. Others have faltered. If we created a graph like Tippett’s of each player’s performance, but made the x-axis the length of a career instead of a season, the trend line representing each of these 32 players’ showings in 2014 would barely be visible. Absent that context, it can be very easy to read too much into early returns. In a few cases, though, the small samples loom large, as exposure to elite competition reveals weaknesses that might have been hidden at lower levels.
In cases like these, when the plate appearance or innings pitched totals are too low for publicly available projections to have budged by much, it’s often illuminating to see how the industry perception of a player has changed. To find out which recent top prospects have helped or hurt their causes, I surveyed 15 scouts, pro scouting directors, statistical analysts, and other front-office executives whose value to their teams stems in part from their ability to spot changes in true talent before bigger samples make those shifts obvious to everyone. I sent them the list of the 32 preseason top prospects who’ve accrued some major league service time, and I asked them to tell me (via email) which five had changed their minds for the better and which five had changed their minds for the worse since spring training.
All the respondents started the season with different expectations for each of these players, so the point wasn’t to see which players they liked best or least, or even how they thought the players stacked up relative to each other. Nor was it to see which players have over- or underperformed their projections so far, which we could determine with statistics alone. The goal was to pinpoint the players who’ve done something to either raise long-term expectations or make informed observers more bearish about their futures.2 Not all the respondents had seen or studied every player closely enough to have an opinion on all 32, and not all sent me five names in each category, but as the ballots came back, some patterns emerged. Let’s take a spin through the most popular picks, covering both the good and the bad.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays: Stroman made his pro debut out of the bullpen after signing with Toronto following the 2012 draft, then transitioned to the rotation in Double- and Triple-A. Even so, some evaluators didn’t expect him to stick in a starting role. Scouts operate by building a mental database of players who’ve succeeded before, then looking for the same attributes in others. Stroman’s stuff earned him believers, but his 5-foot-9 frame made it difficult to come up with comps.
Following the same script he had in the minors, Stroman made his major league debut in relief in early May, but his big league bullpen career lasted only 10 days. After a brief return to the minors, he switched to a starting role with the Jays on May 31, becoming the first pitcher listed under 5-foot-10 to make a start in the majors since Fabio Castro made one (and only one) for the Phillies in 2007. The other sub-5-10 starters of the 21st century (Shane Komine, Michael Tejera, Arnie Munoz, and Daniel Garibay) were just as forgettable, so Stroman has already accomplished something special merely by making 14 starts.
Judging by his results so far, he’s going to make many more. While he’s been knocked out of a few starts early (including recording only two outs in his most recent start), he’s also shown the ability to go deep into games (including shutting down Detroit for nine innings earlier this month). He’s thrown strikes, gotten ground balls, and held his own against left-handed hitters, limiting opponents to an overall .226/.278/.316 line despite making more than half his starts in the Rogers Centre.
“[I] thought he was more likely to be an 8th inning set-up type or bottom of the rotation starter,” wrote one front-office type. “Thus far, he has proved capable of being a mid-rotation type.”
Said one scout who put Stroman on his list of positive surprises: “I was worried about the lack of an out pitch vs. LHHs, although I did think he’d be able to stick as a starter. The development of his cutter and fastball command have essentially molded him into a pitcher with three plus offerings.”
For now, at least, the talk about how Stroman is too short has subsided.
“I hope nobody mentions again how he should be a bullpen type just because of his frame,” another scout said.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds: Hamilton was the closest equivalent to Stroman among position-player prospects this spring. His elite speed was as flashy a skill as Stroman’s mid-90s fastball, but scouts’ enthusiasm was tempered by concerns about Hamilton’s strength and physique. He managed only a .308 on-base percentage and an .087 ISO for Triple-A Louisville last season, and the pessimist’s preseason narrative was that he’d lack the strength to punish pitchers when they pounded the zone.
Those fears seemed justified when Hamilton had a sub-.200 OBP on April 15, but he’s posted an above-league-average .281/.311/.408 line since then, and on the season he’s equaled his minor league single-year home run high (6) and set a new personal doubles record (24). That’s still not the sort of OBP teams look for from a leadoff man, but for a plus center fielder with elite legs, average offense is a springboard to stardom.
“[Hamilton’s] OBP is low and his CS are high, but he showed more contact and power than expected, and if he can be a 95 OPS+ guy (like he has been so far), his fielding and running will make him an above average player for a long time,” wrote one evaluator. “Call him a 3 to 4 win player if this is what he is. And that’s way better than I thought he would be. I honestly thought he wouldn’t hit and would turn into a defensive replacement/pinch runner.”
Admitted an NL scout: “I thought he was more of a smoke and mirrors prospect with blazing speed and limited hitting ability. After watching a good amount of his games this year, he has shown the ability to consistently square the ball up. … My expectations for him next year will be much higher.”
Gregory Polanco, RF, Pirates: Polanco found himself at the center of controversy, as the Pirates, appearing to put service time ahead of performance, delayed his promotion until June 10 despite their offensive struggles in right field and Polanco’s hot hitting for Triple-A Indianapolis. The 22-year-old’s .244/.311/.354 major league line after two-plus months isn’t quite what Pirates fans envisioned when they called for his promotion, but while Polanco’s power has been missing so far, he hasn’t looked overmatched. His swing, chase, and strikeout rates are well below league average, and the more pitches he sees, the more contact he makes.
“Polanco has shown better plate discipline than I expected for a young hitter,” said one respondent. “I think the power will continue to come and he’ll be a 20 HR/20 SB guy with a high OBP.”
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Rays: Even in a lost season for Wil Myers, the Rays have gotten significant value from the James Shields trade thanks to Odorizzi’s performance, which one scout termed a “huge breakthrough.”
“Odorizzi could always pitch and he always had a deep arsenal, but the knock on him was always the lack of that put-away pitch,” another scout wrote. “Now we’re looking at a dude who strikes out hitters left and right with an upper 80s, low 90s fastball. The key for him has been the development of that changeup, and I think he’s done a better job of learning how to use it as the year has progressed. He really pitches well with the fastball and uses that cut-slider and lollipop curve to disrupt timing while putting away hitters with a sneaky fastball or change.”
Odorizzi’s refined changeup is really a new pitch, a splitter he learned from Alex Cobb. He’s using it more often than he used to throw the change, and while it’s not the weapon Cobb’s splitter is, it’s a far more effective pitch than Odorizzi’s old off-speed offering.
One rival scouting director, who noted that many of the 32 preseason top prospects still have MLB “sample sizes that are simply too small to fairly evaluate,” wrote that “Odorizzi is the only player on the list that has really surpassed what we would have expected in a rookie campaign … his K-rate is far better than we could have predicted.”
“He was going to be a pitchability guy, but he is now hinting at more than that,” said a third scout. “From back-end to number 3, or perhaps even better.”
Arismendy Alcantara, CF, Cubs: Alcantara became the first of the Cubs’ cresting wave of young position players to graduate from the minors, debuting at second base on July 9 and shifting to center when Javier Baez arrived. Although he hasn’t hit yet, Alcantara’s experience at four defensive positions (second, short, third, and center) will help keep him on the field as Chicago shoehorns its higher-ceiling sluggers into the lineup.
“I think he’ll hit enough to play every day, and he’s going to have enough versatility to play in multiple positions,” one scout said. “He might even play well at multiple positions. I saw him at second base in Iowa, but the limited looks I’ve seen on TV in center field look solid. There’s some sneaky pop in there that has a chance to play in the majors. … He will need to tighten the approach, though. He swung at everything when I saw him in AAA this year.”
Although he’s had contact issues, Alcantara has swung less often and chased no more often than the typical major leaguer, so he’s not nearly in the swing rate stratosphere of Javier Baez, the power prospect who recently displaced him at second.
Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks: Before hitting the DL with a shoulder injury at the end of June, Owings hadn’t done anything flashy in his first full season, but he’d been above average with the bat and at least average on defense, propelling him past Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed (both of whom are slightly older than Owings) on Arizona’s shortstop depth chart.
“Looks like an everyday MLB SS,” a scouting director said simply.
Another scout offered more glowing praise: “Above average everyday regular as a SS,” he said. “Those are precious and rare. I liked him, but it looks like he’ll be a tick better than expected.”
George Springer, RF, Astros: Through his first 15 games, Springer hit .180/.254/.213 with a 34 percent strikeout rate, prompting some to wonder whether he’d been called up too soon. Springer’s strikeout rate has dropped only slightly since then, but he’s paired the K’s with patience and power, posting the third-highest ISO of any hitter with at least 200 plate appearances since May 2 (behind only Edwin Encarnacion and Houston teammate Chris Carter).
“Springer is going to swing and miss, but I have been impressed by the way he has made adjustments to pitchers later in games,” wrote one assistant GM. “He’s hit for a ton of power in a very short time and it looks like he was wise to turn down that contract extension.”
Added a front-office type: “There is some uncertainty with guys who swing and miss and strikeout a lot at the minor league level and how that translates to the big leagues. Many of those guys who swing and miss in the minors, nosedive in the big league and become 4-A players. But for Springer, the power plays.”
Also receiving multiple up votes: Yordano Ventura (Royals), Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays)
Conspicuously scarce: Javier Baez, 2B, Cubs. Despite posting a batting line and plate discipline stats unlike any other major leaguer’s, Baez didn’t show up on anyone’s list. No one was expecting him to have a typical profile, and so no one has been surprised by his early results. “If he hits 50 HR’s and has a 30+% K% in a season, it wouldn’t surprise me at all,” one scout said. “I think he’s the most fun hitter to watch in possibly all of baseball.”
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, Red Sox: Yeah, you knew this was coming. Bradley recorded a .216/.288/.290 slash line in close to 400 plate appearances and just got sent back to Triple-A, so there was no way he wouldn’t appear here. In almost 500 combined plate appearances in the majors across two seasons, Bradley has shown little of the patience and power that made him a highly rated prospect, and at 24, he doesn’t have a leash as long as scuffling 21-year-old teammate Xander Bogaerts.
“He’s swinging at 29% of pitches out of the strike zone this year at the major league level,” one analyst said. “That is a drastic increase from what he was doing at AAA. One would expect that chase percentage should rise when moving from AAA to the majors, but his increase is much larger than normal and chase percentage stabilizes fairly quickly.”
“I still want to believe the bat is better than this, and I do because of his instincts and approach, but this has been very disappointing,” a scouting director said.
A scout summed up Bradley’s future: “The swing plane isn’t conducive to hitting with power, and he hasn’t wowed with any sort of impactful baserunning ability. He’d better be REALLY good in center field.”
Bradley has been excellent defensively, ranking second among center fielders (behind Juan Lagares) in both DRS and UZR, but his prospect status was partly tied to his bat. If the Sox don’t straighten out that aspect of his game, they’ll have to settle for the second coming of Endy Chavez.
Erik Johnson, RHP, White Sox: It took five starts for Johnson to lose his spot on the major league roster, and 20 more in the minors for him to be placed on the Triple-A disabled list last week with what the White Sox called “shoulder fatigue.” Injury is one possible explanation for why Johnson’s fastball has dropped two ticks and his peripherals have gone the wrong way. (He’s walked 69 in 129.1 innings, with only 81 strikeouts.) Even if Johnson’s shoulder isn’t the root cause of his catastrophic season, he could use a mercy stint on the DL.
“The stuff has been down across the board and, as of my last look, he’d turned himself into almost solely a fastball/slider machine with decreased velo, and the command is way down,” one scout reported. “The athleticism was really poor for me on my last look and caused red flags. There just isn’t much margin for error right now. Definitely more of a power look last year with four usable pitches.”
Concluded another scout: “It’s alarming, and he hasn’t looked like a major leaguer.”
Michael Choice, OF, Rangers: Billy Beane’s strategy of trading top prospects for veteran talent hasn’t come back to bite him here: Former Oakland outfielder Choice is one of the few current Rangers who hasn’t suffered an injury, but Texas might have been better off if he had. Playing all three outfield spots with an occasional start at DH, Choice hit .177/.247/.318 until his demotion in early July, giving him the sixth-lowest wRC+ of any hitter with at least 200 plate appearances this season. His bat hasn’t really rebounded in Round Rock.
“There’s still a chance to be a solid everyday guy, because the tools are still there,” one scout said. “It’s fantastic bat speed and raw power, but there’s a little more doubt for me. It doesn’t appear that he’s handled failure very well, as the approach has sort of deteriorated and he’s fallen into some bad habits with his swing. I wouldn’t give up on him yet, but the arrow is most definitely down. He looks like he needs the offseason and a reset button.”
Another evaluator was more blunt: “He is almost 25, has been poor in the PCL, hasn’t done a thing in the big leagues,” he said. “Can’t hit, can’t field. Is he anything more than a platoon up and down guy going forward?”
Oscar Taveras, RF, Cardinals: Taveras made it onto roughly a third of the downgrade lists — a lower percentage than Bradley, Choice, or Johnson, but a higher percentage than anyone after that. However, he was the last player included on multiple lists, and no one was moved to include a comment about him, which suggests that the concerns weren’t very serious. Still, the slash line is unsightly. Taveras has had to deal with a sporadic schedule of starts, but his ground ball/popup–heavy performance at the plate (combined with shaky defense) hasn’t made a convincing case for more playing time. A flurry of hits immediately after the trade deadline generated some excitement, but he’s since sunk back into a slump.
Also receiving multiple down votes: Christian Bethancourt (Braves), Eddie Butler (Rockies), Garin Cecchini (Red Sox), Jon Singleton (Astros)
Conspicuously scarce: Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) and Taijuan Walker (Mariners). Bogaerts, the consensus spring favorite for AL Rookie of the Year in the wake of his preternaturally polished appearance during Boston’s 2013 playoff run, has been a replacement-level player for the Red Sox this season, but only two respondents — one of whom noted that he “still has loads of talent” — included him on their lists of downgrade guys. Bogaerts’s youth excuses his struggles, so few evaluators have soured on his future as a result of his rookie year.
Walker also appeared on only two lists, which is somewhat more surprising, given that he was expected to start the year in Seattle but didn’t make his season debut for the Mariners until late June. Walker appears to have recovered from the shoulder inflammation that sidelined him early on, which is one reason for optimism, but he’s back in the minors. Either the evaluators I contacted don’t think the 22-year-old’s disappointing season has any implications for his future, or they weren’t high on him from the start.
If you found yourself disagreeing with one or more of the above judgments, you’re not necessarily wrong. In a few cases, the team employees I contacted disagreed with each other so strongly about what we’ve learned from a particular player’s season that one rated the player a disappointment while another deemed him a pleasant surprise. Player evaluation is hard! The following three players received at least one up vote and one down vote.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers
Pro: “I might have been a bit lower than most on Castellanos coming into the spring. … I didn’t see any standout, impact-type tools, and he might prove me wrong. He shows a veteran calmness at the plate and is a line drive-hitting machine. A guy like Castellanos, who has good raw power and athleticism, could maintain a high BABIP given his propensity to hit line drives at the rate he does.”
Con: “His glove has been beyond atrocious at 3B and it will negate most of his value. I think it’s better to try to move him to LF. … I can’t see him becoming an above average regular at 3B, simply because of his fielding. If he moves, his outlook might change again to positive, but right now, nope. And again, it has nothing to do with his bat.”
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins
Pro: “I think he has raised the floor for me. He really commands his stuff in and out of the zone. The breaking ball still isn’t better than average for me, but it’s got more depth than last year.”
Con: “Heaney has softer stuff and he has to be perfect in order to be successful. I just didn’t see enough weapons and he doesn’t yet have the command or pitchability to make a difference at the highest level.”
James Paxton, LHP, Mariners
Pro: “I saw him bad in AAA last year. The velocity was all over the place and he was battling his delivery the entire game. Didn’t show any curveball command and was even toying with a cutter at that point. He’s been a different dude ever since he stepped on to a big-league diamond. Obviously tall lefties who touch the upper 90s don’t grow on trees. I think he’s figured it out and made the strides necessary to become a legitimately solid big-league starter.”
Con: “At first glance, there’s a ton to like. Big lefty, clean arm, deceptive, big velocity. But he doesn’t strike hitters out and gives up a lot of hits. And he’ll be 26 years old in November. He has an unsustainably low career BABIP against him in his small sample in the big leagues as well.”
The Braves are batting .500 with the Uptons
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014
By Mark Bradley - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
For those keeping score at home, the Braves are batting .500 on Uptons. No, that’s not 1.000, which is what they hoped when they added B.J. Upton and brother Justin in the same offseason, but it’s not .000, either. And Justin Upton, whose massive April pointed the way toward a division title in 2013, is proving again that, in months that begin with an “A,” he’s an absolute ace.
Yes, Upton dropped the fly ball that undid the Braves in Pittsburgh on Wednesday — he’s not much of an outfielder, alas — but flash back six days. The Braves had lost three of four to the Dodgers and 12 of 15 overall. They had fallen six games behind Washington in the National League East and to fourth in the wild-card chase. At 7:35 p.m. Friday, the 61-60 Braves were due to face the team with baseball’s best record. By midnight Sunday, this season could have been all but done.
Justin Upton led off the bottom of the second Friday by driving a Jason Hammel fastball over the wall in left. It wasn’t much of a pitch — down the middle at 91 mph — but these Braves had spent 4 1/2 months mostly missing fat pitches. Upton didn’t miss.
The Oakland A’s would lead for only half an inning the entire weekend. Another Upton homer put the Braves ahead to stay Sunday night. It came off an 0-2 cutter down and in, the kind intended to make a batter chase. Upton chased it and found it and drove it 423 feet, and he did it off Jon Lester, among the best in the business.
“I thought it was a good pitch when I threw it,” Lester told reporters. “I went back and looked at it, (and it was a) good pitch. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat.”
The point being: When J-Up is locked in, he can hit anything off anybody. He’s hot now. He began play Wednesday having gone 14-for-40 (.350) with five homers and 16 RBIs over the past 12 games. He hit a first-inning home run off Washington’s Stephen Strasburg — a 94-mph fastball on the outer half — to touch off the resuscitating 10-game homestand; he hoisted a tying homer two nights later off Gio Gonzalez. He drove in five runs in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
This is why the Braves traded for Upton. He’s among the few players capable of carrying a team for an extended period. He’s not always this hot — last year he had 20 homers and 35 RBIs in the two “A” months, seven and 35 in the other four — but there’s always the possibility he’ll get that way.
There aren’t 10 more talented players in the sport, which made the Braves’ trade for Upton rather mysterious. At issue wasn’t why they wanted such a gifted player but why Arizona no longer did. Upton was the first player drafted in 2005. He signed an extension for $51 million over six seasons in 2010. He finished fourth in the 2011 National League MVP voting. All that, and the Diamondbacks were giving up on him at 25? What made his employer so desperate — he blocked a previous trade to Seattle — to dump him?
I’ve asked a half-dozen baseball men, and the most telling answer came from someone who once worked for the D-backs. “Management there wants it done a certain way. They want their guys to be Luis Gonzalez, who was very active in the community. They wanted Justin to be the face of the franchise — they had that ‘Uptown’ sign in the outfield — but that’s not Justin. He would say, ‘I just want to play the game.’ “
It’s hard to imagine anyone wouldn’t like the guy. He’s unceasingly pleasant. He’s low-key, which apparently the D-backs didn’t appreciate — they seemed bent on constructing a roster of firebrands in the mold of manager Kirk Gibson — but plays well in Fredi Gonzalez’s clubhouse. And there’s this: Since the Upton trade, Arizona is 20 games under .500; the Braves are 36 games above.
It would be incorrect to say Upton has fully delivered on his immense promise. He hasn’t made an All-Star team as a Brave. His 2013 season in full — he batted .263 with 27 homers and 70 RBIs — was disappointing. Sometimes, though, it’s not as much what you do as when.
Upton’s April set the tone for last season. His August is changing the course of this one. If somebody will just rename the month after September “Achtober,” the Braves will be set.